How to motivate different gym personalities to improve member retention

5 min read time

It’s gym rule number one: motivated members are members who stick around. Membership retention should be a top priority for all gyms and fitness businesses as it is the best strategy you can employ for building long-term revenue streams.

But there’s not one type of exercise suited to everyone; so how can you keep everyone happy, motivated and coming back?

New studies have found that individual differences can influence how motivated they are to go to the gym, what physical activity they prefer and how frequently they do it.

What makes this challenging is that gyms and health clubs have such a variety of personalities to cater for. So is it even possible to keep everyone happy?

Understanding the motivation behind gym attendance

Motivation in general can be classified as intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation relates to an individual doing something because it’s personally rewarding to them.

Typically, people who are intrinsically motivated in the context of health and fitness are those whose lives revolve heavily around achieving a personal fitness goal. It could be an athlete training for a competition or someone who is deeply committed to a strength or weight loss goal.

They never miss a session, or stray from their meal prep, and they make a lot of compromises to keep a strong regimented routine.

One study looked at the motivational differences between CrossFit participants and other resistance-based exercises. The results showed that CrossFit participants were more likely to report higher levels of intrinsic motives which means they enjoyed the personal challenge set for themselves.

On the other hand, the study showed that those who participated in personal training were doing it for more extrinsic motives where they wanted to avoid health problems and manage their weight.

Extrinsic motivation relates to an individual doing something because they want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.

External factors could include:

  • Having a gym buddy
  • A personal trainer
  • Being signed up to a group-based fitness challenge
  • Having health-related motives (i.e weight management)

Each of these scenarios introduce a level of accountability from someone or by having a health-related motive.

When you take these out of the equation, people who rely on intrinsic motivation are those who have a deeper desire to achieve their own personal health and fitness goals.

Another study looks at the link between motivation to exercise and satisfying the three basic needs of the Self Determination Theory: (1) autonomy, (2) mastery/competence and (3) relatedness. It says individuals require for these three basic needs to be satisfied in order for them to continue engaging in the exercise.

 

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Turning these theories and research into member retention ideas

So how can you use this research to keep your members motivated?

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivated individuals

It’s up to you to ensure your members (whether they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated) always have the mechanisms in place to keep that motivation firing away.

Some red flags for an individual who is extrinsically motivated could be:

  • When they don’t have their gym buddy anymore
  • They’ve decided to stop personal training
  • They’ve just finished a challenge
  • You’ve noticed they aren’t losing any weight or showing signs of lacking enthusiasm

Take the time to chat with them and find out what’s going on in their lives and how it’s affecting their motivation at the gym. Once you’ve done that, then you can decide the best course of action to keep them on track whether it’s a few free trial passes to bring in another accountability partner, a discount on the next challenge or helping them tweak their gym routine to get their results back on track.

Whereas red flags for an individual who is intrinsically motivated could be:

  • You’ve noticed they have been skipping sessions at the gym
  • Their mood at the gym has changed
  • They’ve had a goal setback

Again, it’s all about communication and checking in with them. They could be in a ‘funk’ and need help getting out of it. Try firing up their inner challenger by setting them a new goal to reach or suggest something new they could learn.

Self Determination Theory

Let’s recap on what these three basic needs were, but in health and fitness context.

Autonomy

This relates to how much the individual feels it's their choice to exercise and what control they have over what they’re doing. They don’t want to feel forced or pressured by anyone to do something.

What you can do:

  • Always offer alternatives - particularly for people who may be recovering from an injury, are pregnant or have a reason why they can’t participate in a particular exercise. It’s all about making sure they are enjoying what exercise they are doing.
  • Check-in on how members are enjoying certain classes or their exercise routine to get a pulse check that they have found what works for them.
  • Don’t push personal training onto someone who feels they’ve found what they enjoy. Instead, empower them by giving some praise or acknowledging how much you’ve been admiring their motivation and attendance.
  • Offer them different payment schedules, whether it’s paying membership fees monthly or annually. Offer them the opportunity to set up recurring direct debit payments, real time card payments or in-club EFTPOS facilities. The more in control they feel over their finances, the more likely they are to stick with your gym.

Mastery/ Competence

To fulfil this basic need, individuals need to feel like they know what they’re doing when they exercise and feel confident in the gym or environment they’re exercising in.

What you can do:

  • Make sure you always know how new someone is to the gym environment and offer them guidance on how to use certain equipment or taking the time to correct their form on the gym floor.
  • Offer the option of personal training and explain the benefits of what they will learn. If they are financially constrained - consider offering some type of incentive or split out the cost of sessions across their usual membership fees rather than billing as a lump sum.
  • Send out monthly emails to members with helpful content that is free and educates them about food and nutrition and exercise.

Relatedness

This one is all about social connection and feeling like they have the support from friends, family and other gym members to help them achieve their goals. Even for someone really self-motivated, they will still need some form of support on their fitness journey to keep them motivated.

What you can do:

  • Encourage members to share their goals on a blackboard in the gym.
  • Make sure your staff members are interacting with the gym members and making them feel part of a wider community - not just those who go to the group classes.
  • Introduce incentives or promotions to bring in friends and family to work out with.

Big Five Personality Traits

As part of your onboarding process, you could include a number of survey questions that help you learn a bit more about their personality - even at the most basic level.

Questions you could ask might be:

  • Are you open to trying new classes or workouts?
  • Do you struggle with sticking to new habits?
  • Do you prefer exercising by yourself, with a friend or in a group?
  • Do you enjoy competition when you’re exercising?
  • Do you handle high pressure situations well?

The answers to these types of questions will not only help you learn more about their personality, but also how it affects their exercise preferences.

Summary

Some of the most widely used theories in the study of an individual’s exercise and motivation are underpinned by the Self Determination Theory and the Big Five Personality Traits. Understanding how these two work together is important for your membership retention strategy. But what’s even more important is having the right processes and payment options in place to ensure you are keeping your current members motivated and happy.

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